It took Liberty County jurors on Tuesday 30 minutes to convict and less than an hour to sentence Phillip Jerome Simmons, 57, of Cleveland, to life in prison for the brutal domestic violence murder of Trena Monique “Nikki” Jordan on April 30, 2020, as the couple’s daughter watched in horror.
At the time of the murder, Simmons had been released from prison for just four months on a theft case out of Tarrant County, Texas, which resulted in a 20-year prison sentence. He had served just eight years and was paroled in December 2019.
Family members say that in the days leading up to her murder, Simmons had asked Nikki to marry him and had given her a puzzling deadline of May 1 to comply.
“We don’t know what was so special about May 1. He killed her the day before,” Nikki’s niece, Kiesha Gonzales-Carr, told Bluebonnet News on Wednesday. “When the murder happened, Nikki had been trying to let him have a relationship with their daughter, Akeelah. She finally told him she didn’t want to be with him, and he killed her.”
During the trial, Simmons took the stand and testified that the murder was in self-defense after Nikki reportedly threatened him with a knife. However, his account of events did not mesh with facts as investigators did not find a knife anywhere near the victim and the multiple gunshot wounds to her back proved she was not the aggressor.
The most damning testimony for Simmons came from his biological daughter Akeelah Jordan, now 15, who testified that she and her mother had just returned to their home on the 800 block of S. Holly Ave., in Cleveland, just after 5 p.m. from her aunt’s house when Simmons immediately confronted Nikki as they entered the home.
After Simmons pulled a handgun and shot into the ceiling, Akeelah and Nikki attempted to flee from the home, desperately running toward the back door. Simmons began firing at Nikki, striking her five times in her back as she ran toward the back door.
Akeelah stated that her mother tripped on her shoes as she exited the backdoor of the residence and fell. Simmons fired three more shots into Nikki’s back as he stood over her, in essence executing her in front of their daughter.
Evidence was presented that Akeelah ran toward the home of her aunt, screaming for help and shouting that “Daddy just killed my Mama.” Emotional testimony from a neighbor was presented recounting the events of that day and the fact that the neighbor, along with another responding neighbor, ran to where Nikki lay on the back porch, and they held her head in their hands as she took her last breath.
After the murder, Simmons was observed calmly walking to his vehicle and leaving the scene with the weapon in his hand. Simmons never called for help or exhibited any emotion. Simmons was caught by law enforcement three hours later. He was captured by Cleveland Police Capt. Scott Felts and Sgt. David Edwards on US 59 southbound near the San Jacinto River Bridge.
“The suspect vehicle was slowed by congested traffic due to ongoing construction, but failed to stop. The vehicle was blocked in by officers and a felony take-down was initiated. Phillip Simmons was removed from the vehicle and was taken into custody without incident,” Felts said at the time.
Simmons was still in possession of the 9 mm handgun he used to kill Nikki.
Nikki’s family members sat through the two-day trial in the 75th District Courtroom of the Honorable Judge Mark Morefield. Nikki’s niece, Kiesha, said the trial has stirred up a lot of old emotions for the family members.
“You think you are healed but the trial opened up things again. We found out a lot of things we didn’t know. It’s been a lot to deal with. He was saying so many bad things that we know aren’t true. He was trying to make Aunt Nikki look bad by saying she was trying to stab him with a knife. We know that wasn’t true. She wouldn’t hurt anyone. It wasn’t in her nature,” Kieisha said. “He even called his own daughter a liar for testifying against him.”
Nikki’s true character was shown daily through her love of her family members, Kiesha said. Even though she was a single mom raising two children, and worked a full-time job as a bus monitor for Cleveland ISD, she made time to care for family members and volunteer at the Operation Refuge Food Pantry in Cleveland, helping out during food distributions at Liberty Church.
“She would get up in the morning with Akeelah, get dressed and walk down to her sister’s house. Her sister had twin boys who had just turned 1 year old. She would help get them ready for the day and then help her sister with whatever needed to be done around her house. Then she would go to my mom’s house and see if she needed any help,” Kiesha said. “She would call me and ask how I was doing. I have a special needs son with autism. She really, really spoiled him. On the day she died, she had baked us a cake and was planning to bring it to us the next day. That’s just who she was. She always wanted to help people.”
The emotional toll has been felt by the entire family but Kiesha’s autistic son is confused and still does not understand what happened to his Aunt Nikki.
“Phillip selfishly took her away from him. My son loved going to Aunt Nikki’s house. She would babysit him. He would run inside her house and she would always have a Coke soda there for him. Now, when we go past the house where she used to live, my son tries to get out of the car. He doesn’t understand,” Kiesha said.
Nikki’s son, Jamar, who was 18 at the time of his mother’s murder, was just a month shy of high school graduation.
“This has definitely put a strain on our entire family. We love the kids and are trying our best to be there for them. We know it’s been traumatic for them especially,” Kiesha said. “Jamar now lives in Beaumont with his father. He struggled a lot afterward because he blamed himself for not being home that day and not being able to protect his mom.”
Nikki’s family members, who came to court on Tuesday wearing “Justice for Nikki” shirts, were forced to turn their T-shirts inside out so as not to be accused of influencing the jury or causing a mistrial. After the verdict and sentencing, they returned to the courtroom with their shirts on the right way and faced Simmons for allocution, the point of a trial where victims are able to explain the impact of the crime on their lives.
“When I got to the part about talking about my son, I started to cry. While he is not completely non-verbal, my son doesn’t understand what’s going on, but he sat there the whole time and was so calm as we spoke. We aren’t used to it that kind of calmness in him. I think it was Nikki’s spirit that was in the courtroom,” Kiesha said.
Throughout the trial, Simmons appeared devoid of emotions. Kiesha said that as family members started to speak, there was a noticeable shift in his demeanor.
“When we started to speak to him, his facial expression changed a little. I was looking into his eyes as I was talking about my son, and I could see it was getting through to him,” she said.
Simmons will have plenty of time to ponder the decisions that led to him spending essentially the rest of his life in prison. As he was still on parole for the Tarrant County case, he must first finish the remainder of his 20-year sentence before his life sentence for Nikki’s murder begins.
The State’s case was presented by Assistant District Attorneys Kevin Barnes and Kayla Herrington. Barnes credited law enforcement officers, the jury and the victim’s family and neighbors for helping to bring the case to a successful conclusion.
“Their hard work and willingness to testify are why a murderer was sentenced to life in prison and will never walk the streets of our communities again,” Barnes said afterward. Herrington added that she hopes the verdict will bring closure to the victim’s family.
District Attorney, Jennifer L. Bergman, who sat in on the trial, said: “First, on behalf of the Liberty County District Attorney’s Office, we would like to express our sincere appreciation to the jurors who heard and weighed the evidence presented at trial, and who handed down a verdict that was so rightly deserved. The defendant didn’t just take the mother of his child away, he made her witness something a child should never experience. Phillip Simmons forever stole a Mother from her children, a sister, a niece, an aunt, a neighbor, and a friend from this community in a senseless act of domestic violence. His selfishness changed the course of so many lives and the jury made sure his was one of them. Even before Simmons committed this horrible murder, there were signs of domestic violence. This case is the poison fruit of a relationship fraught with control and domestic violence that was allowed to flourish. This case is a prime example of why this office takes and will continue to take cases of domestic violence so seriously. Thankfully, due to the excellent work of the Cleveland Police Department, the brave friends, family, and neighbors of Trena ‘Nikki’ Jordan, Phillip Simmons will never again be allowed to walk the streets of our community.”
Like father, like son?
In September 2021, Simmons’ son, Gerard Dante Simmons, was sentenced to 50 years in prison for the August 2016 murder of his girlfriend, Latasha Green. In his guilty plea, Simmons admitted to brutally murdering Green, a 36-year-old mother of five, at their home in Cleveland. After strangling her to death, Simmons sexually violated her corpse and then dumped her body.
The cases of the father and son have eerie similarities. Both men murdered women with whom they had current or prior relationships and both women were murdered with their children nearby.
In the case of Gerard Dante Simmons, Green’s daughter, who was 8 at the time, testified to hearing Simmons and Green arguing and waking up later to the sound of her mother being choked.
For more on that case, click the link below: